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The Founders and Treasures of the Wallace Collection

Report of the lecture given by Stephen Duffy
on March 23rd 2016

Our speaker was Stephen Duffy, one of the curators of the gallery, who related for us the story of the formation of the collection and discussed many of its finest treasures.

The lecture is linked to the Cranleigh DFAS visit to the Wallace Collection planned for 14 April 2016.

In his overview of the Collection, Stephen pointed out that it consists of five and a half thousand works, including medieval glass, majolica, arms and armour and many quality paintings.


Probably the most famous painting in the collection is “The Laughing Cavalier” by Frans Hals.  However, it was pointed out that this title is entirely inappropriate since the image has more of a self-satisfied smirk than a laugh, and he is not dressed as a cavalier.  In fact his clothing is very finely wrought and has images indicating love.

Portrait of an unknown man or “The Laughing Cavalier”
Frans Hals (1624)

The collection was started, purely for his own interest, by the first Marquess of Hertford on his Grand Tour, during which he bought several works by Canaletto.

The second Marquess of Hertford continued to purchase works of art.  His position in the government owed much to the affair his wife, the second Marchioness of Hertford, had with the Prince of Wales, later George IV.  It was the second Marquess who started the long association with Hertford House, now the home of the collection.

The third Marquess was a considerable connoisseur of the arts.  He bought Titian’s Perseus and Andromeda and seventeenth-century Dutch paintings such as Netscher’s The Lace Maker and Rembrandt’s Good Samaritan as well as French furniture, gilt bronzes and Sèvres porcelain.

The fourth Marquess of Hertford devoted the last thirty years of his life (from the age of 43 in 1843) to collecting works of art, and was responsible for the major part of the Wallace Collection as it is today.  He bought Dutch paintings including Rembrandt’s Titus and Hals' Laughing Cavalier, many superb Old Masters and most of the nineteenth century paintings now in the collection.  He paid £2,040 for the Laughing Cavalier, beating Rothschild at the auction – much to his pleasure.

He also bought fine S
èvres porcelain, furniture by the great cabinet makers, miniatures, gold boxes, tapestries and sculpture, and Oriental arms and armour.  He attached great importance to the finish, good condition and known provenance of the pieces, preferring pleasing and sensuous works of art, typical of which is The Swing by Fragonard.

Vase and Cover, Sèvres porcelain, c.1770
Image ©The Wallace Collection
(Non-commercial use)

The Swing
Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1767)

The fourth Marquess never married, but had a son, Richard, with Mrs Agnes Jackson.  Richard later changed his surname to Wallace, his mother’s maiden name, and became secretary to his father, eventually inheriting most of his wealth.  He was made a baronet in 1871.  He was a great philanthropist and continued to enlarge his father’s collection both before and after his death.

John Murray Scott became the first trustee of the Wallace Collection.

Maggie Atkins

Related Link (opens in new windows):

The Wallace Collection